Just when it seemed winter wasn’t going to give up without a fight, the thermometer finally bounced above the freezing mark. After a few false starts, it looks like it is going to finally stay there too. The days are getting longer and the sun is reaching higher in the sky. As if I needed another sign that spring has arrived, my yard is finally littered with white, purple and yellow crocuses. That means it is time to start thinking about the garden. Actually, I started thinking about starting my garden since ordering my seeds back in January, but it’s time to put those seeds to use.
I used to wait until the May rush and buy all my seedlings from the garden store. However, I’ve been seduced by the January seed catalogs into starting my own plants from seeds. They offer not only an irresistible tug of springtime hope in the middle of winter, but also so many more varieties of plants. Just try to find 71 varieties of tomatoes or 22 varieties of pumpkins or multiple varieties of most crops in your local garden store or home improvement mega box. You can’t, it isn’t cost effective to carry more than a few ‘favorite’ varieties.
I start my garden from seeds in soil blocks using full spectrum lightbulbs in my basement. To take advantage of the short growing season here in New England, now is the time to get started. Don’t let my set up intimidate you, it has evolved over several years of trial and error. All you need is a sunny window, a few small pots, some soilless seed starting mix and a few choice seeds. All of which can be had at your neighborhood hardware and garden store. Some grocery stores even care basic supplies.
Starting plants from seed can seem kind of intimidating. Admittedly, it doesn’t always go well. Sometimes you forget to water them and they dry out. Sometimes they don’t get a good start and end up spindly and weak. Yet, sometimes they work wonderfully and produce beautiful robust plants. This is part of the fun of planting a garden. It is also why so many gardeners exhibit calmness and patience; two traits I am personally trying to cultivate from my garden. For many years, I would start a few of the more interesting crops from seed with plans to purchase some plants from the garden store. This way, if things didn’t work out with my seeds, I had a backup plan. Besides, if you start early enough, you will know what is going well and what is not before the garden stores start stocking vegetable plants.
As I know many of you don’t have a lot of space, I also want to dispel the myth that you need a big backyard to get started. A sunny balcony, stoop, windowsill or countertop is enough for growing a few container plants to bring a few fresh vegetables or herbs into your kitchen. It is also a great opportunity to learn without a big investment. For example, loose leaf salad greens are easy to grow from seed, easy to care for and will make it to a dinner plate in just a few weeks. Fresh potted herbs are also the gift that keeps on giving. If you keep a few shallow pots of salad greens in rotation, you can keep yourself in weekly greens throughout the year.
There is such an amazing world of flavor hidden in a seed catalog, I suggest trying something new, something you won’t find in the grocery store or even in your farmer’s market. Without starting from seeds, I would have never tasted the meaty and creamy Good Mother Stallard dried beans or the sweet and tangy Lemon Cucumber or the sweetly tart Black Krim Tomato. Sure, it may not feel like spring quite outside yet, but you can start getting into a springtime mood by getting your hands into some dirt. My seeds have just started breaking ground.
After 15 years in sustainable product design, Kimi Ceridon shifted focus from consumer products to food systems. Food is the most tangible, accessible way for individuals to reduce their impact on the planet and make a statement against an unsustainable industrial food system. She is active with NOFA/Mass Boston Ferments, Waltham Fields Community Farms and has led workshops on chicken keeping, backyard homesteading, fermentation, and brewing. Follow her at noreturnticket.kceridon.com.